Joni Harms is a hillbilly filly who hails from Oregon but made a go of it in Nashville in the 1990's... I guess she preferred life back on the ranch, and has since returned to her roots, recording a number of fine independent albums for her own Harms Way label. Notable for her love of old-fashioned "western" music, and of boisterous western swing, Harms remains one of the freshest and most appealing voices in American country music. Here's a quick look at her work...
Joni Harms "Are We There Yet?" (Harms Way Music)
Joni Harms "Thoughts Of You" (Harms Way, 1985)
Joni Harms "I Want To Sing For You" (Harms Way, 1986)
Joni Harms "Hometown Girl" (Capitol, 1990)
A delightful album from an Oregonian gal who had a real feel for old-style country singing, but applied it to the new stuff really well. She was lucky, in a sense, that her debut came out when the whole neo-trad hard-country sound was "in": they let her make the record, didn't they? The downside was that this album didn't make a dent on the charts -- two songs had been previously released as singles, with the novelty song "I Need A Wife" barely cracking into the Top 40. Regardless of how well it sold, though, this album is a winner. Harms delivers uptempo material and weepers with equal ease, and her voice is in peak form. After this flopped, she dropped from sight for a while, then years later recorded several independently released albums with more of a Roy Rogers-y "western" theme; if you've heard some of those albums, you might dig this disc as well. It's worth searching for!
Joni Harms "Christmas In The Country" (Harms Way, 1996)
Her holiday album... (For other Christmas records, see my Hillbilly Holiday section.)
Joni Harms "Cowgirl Dreams" (Warner Brothers, 1998)
Western-style music, modernized and given a little country kick, with a dash of western swing thrown in for good measure... Harms is kind of like a fish out of water -- a real-live country gal hailing from rural Oregon, she may not have a "pretty" enough voice for most folks, but she has a directness and simplicity that may make her appealing to the indie crowd... Some of the modern touches -- synths, even sparingly used -- are a distraction; though I'm sure it must be hard to get the tone right when you're being retro and cutesy, but doing it for a major label.. Upbeat, goofy tunes like "Swing" and "That's The Way I Feel About You" seem to be her strong suit; the slower songs tend to sound a bit too serious... Still, this might be worth checking out, if you're feeling kinda cowgirly and ready for roundup time...
Joni Harms "After All" (Real West, 2001)
Moving to an indie label, Harms seems to have hit a more relaxed groove; she still has her clunky moments, and while she has undeniable weak spots, she also has a nice jes-plain folks charm. The Nashville touches of her earlier album are thankfully absent; this feels more like the record she wanted to make... Again, "western" music is kind of a hard sale in today's country scene, but here's an artist who has a lot to offer those folks who do like the style. Personally, I prefer Harms when she sings straight-up honkytonk (like on the title track, "After All") and this disc has a couple of nice songs along that line... The character sketch of "Mille" -- about a cafe waitress who passes on the secret of a happy life -- is the album's highlight, a nice song with a nice message. Worth checking out.
Joni Harms "Let's Put The Western Back In The Country" (Wildcatter, 2004)
Ms. Harms has a heartwarming faith in the cornball romantic sentiments and good, old-fashioned, goofball novelty songs. For example, both traits combine in "Murphy's Law," a cute tune about a self-reliant country gal who meets the love of her life -- a highway patrolman named Murphy -- who stops to help her out when her old 4x4 breaks down outside of town. That should give you a pretty good idea of what's in store on this album -- the title track is a battle cry to her fellow unreconstructed hicks to renew their faith in the old-style music; other highlights include "Cowboy Up," about the value of picking yourself up when a horse (or life) bucks you off, and "We Work It Out," which imparts the secret to a happy marriage, with a beat you can dance to. This isn1t an album I would have on in the background and get all caught up in, but there are several songs on it that are just so sweetly unpretentious and un-Nashville that you just gotta love 'em. Definitely worth checking out -- fans of, say, Gail Davies might find this album similarly appealing.
Joni Harms "That's Faith" (Harms Way, 2005)
An all-gospel album... (Also check out my Country Gospel section.)
Joni Harms "Harms Way" (Harms Way, 2011)
(Produced by Mitchell Brown)
Hick Music Index